June 17, 2012
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Follow the Leader!
A Father’s Day
Happy Father’s Day—we’ll have some fun with that in a moment.
Today’s story in the gospel of Mark is about a father and son—a desperate father whose son is sick. He brought his son to Jesus, and he had quite a day. I’m calling it “a father’s day”.
We’ll see what Jesus did and we’ll learn more about what it means to follow our leader.]
Introduction and offering:
This summer, we are working our way through the second half of the gospel of Mark. From Mark 9 on, everything moves towards Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mark is telling the story to convince us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who came to give Himself for us on the cross. He is God crucified; the dazzling God who chose a cross. And He calls us to follow and take up our cross as well.
Today is day 28 of the Men’s Swagger Challenge. We challenged our men to meet with Jesus to do PBJ every day for 28 days. We gave them journals that use the SOAP method of Bible study.
Scripture: read the Bible.
Observation: what does it mean?
Application: what does it mean to me?
Prayer: pray it back to God.
We are going to SOAP this story today. We’re doing devotions together for Father’s Day! Get your swagger on! And I want to remind you to bring your Bible to church with you—this is a BYOB party! It will help you see the context.
Last week we read the story of the Transfiguration—three of Jesus’ disciples go up the mountain with Jesus and see Him transformed before their eyes. Jesus was dazzling! It was so amazing that Peter suggested they pitch some tents and stay awhile. Instead, they come down the mountain to a mess. Here’s the story:
Scripture: Mark 9:14-29
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Observation: What does it say? What does it mean (originally)?
When I do observation, I ask questions of the text, and I try to imagine what was going on and why. Here are my questions and observations.
So they come down the mountain from seeing Jesus’ in His dazzling glory to this mess: a desperate father with a hurting son, disciples who were powerless to help, and critics who were ready to discredit them. From the glory to the gory! From the mountaintop experience with God to the valley of human weakness and failure. I’ll bet Peter saw this and really wanted to go back up the mountain.
Of course, the whole point of such mountaintop experiences is to prepare us to live in the valley of everyday life with all its messiness. If they don’t do that, they’re worthless.
ILL: I mentioned last week that summer camp was a mountaintop experience for me every year—and that I hope you’ll do whatever it takes to get your students to camp. (Hot dog sales provide scholarships.) We intentionally plan our camps to make them mountaintop experiences…with take-home value. We swing for the fences at camp—we want them to be mountaintop experiences; and we want them to prepare our students to live with Jesus every day at home and at school. We want to equip them for life in the valley not just on the mountain.
Jesus was equally at home in the valley helping a desperate father as he was on the mountain visiting with Moses and Elijah. We need a relationship with God that is good for everyday life, not just for church.
So they come down and find an argument boiling. Jesus’ disciples had not been able to help this father and son, and that was all their critics needed to lay into them. Then Jesus showed up, and “they were overwhelmed with wonder.” Why were they overwhelmed with wonder? Some people think that Jesus may still have been glowing as He came down the mountain. But if He was still glowing, it wouldn’t have made much sense to tell Peter, James and John to keep it to themselves! More likely, they were amazed that Jesus showed up at this exact moment.
ILL: Have you ever been talking about someone and they showed up? “Amazing! We were just talking about you!” Or you are trying to move something heavy and need help, and I just happen by. “I can’t believe you showed up! Incredible!”
That’s probably what happened here: “Jesus, we were just talking about you and wishing you were here.” And there He was—amazing!
When Jesus asked what they were arguing about, this father stepped forward and explained his son’s desperate condition. His boy was “possessed by a spirit that robbed him of speech.” Literally, the Greek says he “has a spirit that makes him mute”. Later, this is identified as an “evil (unclean) spirit”—sometimes called a demon.
Is this possible? Are there evil spirits that affect people like this? Many in our unbelieving world say no. If you reject the idea of God and believe that there is nothing but matter, you also reject the idea of any other kind of spiritual being. And you reject the idea that humans are spiritual beings—if matter is all there is, then we are merely physical machines. We live, we die—that’s it. End of story.
But if you believe in God, it is not unreasonable to also believe that there are other spiritual beings. Jesus and his early followers, including the writers of the New Testament, all believed that we live in a spiritual world inhabited by God, angels, people, the devil and evil spirits.
So is there such a thing as being possessed by a demon or evil spirit? Jesus thought so. The Bible writers thought so, although they didn’t use the word “possessed.” As I pointed out, in this story, it literally says the boy “has a spirit”. In other places, people are described as “demonized” (the Greek word is daimonizo). I point this out because I’m often asked if a Christian can be demon-possessed. My answer is that the Bible doesn’t use that language. Using Biblical language, I don’t think that you can have God and have an evil spirit at the same time. As Jesus said, “You can’t serve two masters.” You are either God’s and are filled with His spirit, or you aren’t. However, I do think that Christians can be attacked or influenced by evil spirits. We are in a spiritual war, and it would be disastrous to conclude that as a Christian, you are exempted from the battle. Both Peter and Paul warn us about this.
1 Peter 5:8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
If you knew there was a hungry lion loose in your neighborhood, would you be alarmed? Would you be aware and on guard?
ILL: I have backpacked many times in Glacier National Park, home to grizzly bears. I will never forget the first time. We got the customary briefing by the rangers, warning us about bear attacks and how to avoid them. Then on our third and final night of the hike, we were at a lake where a grizzly had been spotted the day before. That night, laying awake in my tent, I heard loud noises out in the woods, the sound of branches breaking and heavy footsteps. Suddenly I realized that I didn’t have any bear repellent. (Do you know what pepper spray does? Makes you taste better!) Rick had the pepper spray in his tent, and the sounds were getting closer!
“Rick!” I whispered. “Rick! RICK!” No answer. He was out cold…and I was wide awake! I didn’t go to sleep for a long time!
You might want to be alert—you have an enemy who is looking to devour you!
Ephesians 6:11–12 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
We are engaged in a spiritual battle; therefore, we need to be aware, and we need to be prepared, armed for battle. The good news is that Jesus wins the battle every time. In this story, and every other time that Jesus confronted an evil spirit, Jesus wins. He has authority over evil spirits and they leave at His command—every time. He has given that same authority to us.
James 4:7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
One more question: does the Bible teach that all sickness is caused by evil spirits? No. Some of it is, as in this case. But there are many other occasions where a sick person is simply sick and Jesus heals him. Jesus discerned whether the sickness was caused by a spirit or was simply a physical condition.
The father explains his son’s condition and then sadly comments, “I asked your disciples to drive it out and they could not.” Later, they would ask Jesus why they couldn’t, and Jesus said, “This kind comes out by prayer (many ancient manuscripts add, “and fasting”).”
Earlier, Jesus had given the disciples authority over evil spirits.
Mark 3:14–15 Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, 15 giving them authority to cast out demons.
This was when Jesus called and chose them to be apostles.
Mark 6:7 And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits.
This was when Jesus sent them on a preaching tour in Israel.
So twice Jesus had given them authority over evil spirits—yet here they were powerless. So they asked Jesus why they couldn’t drive this one out. “This kind comes out by prayer.” What does Jesus mean by this kind? Is he referring to a special class of evil spirits that are hard to cast out? I don’t this so; I think He is referring to evil spirits in general. Evil spirits are cast out by prayer. But how does that work?
It is possible that Jesus meant they needed to pray right then, on the spot. Maybe they had relied on their previous successes, rather than praying and asking God to help.
Or it is possible that Jesus meant they needed to pray as a lifestyle, as a daily relationship with God. In that case, spiritual authority flows from relationship with God—prayer helps us stay connected to God and that gives us spiritual authority.
It may be best to understand it as both: we need a lifestyle of prayer to be connected to God, and we need to pray in the moment and not rely on ourselves. Prayer is one of the primary ways we express faith in God—we turn to Him and ask for His help. Failure to pray is failure to trust.
Most ancient manuscripts add “and fasting.” Fasting is abstaining from food and/or drink for a period time in order to seek God. “Seek God” are the operative words; fasting without seeking God is just dieting. We fast in order to seek God. We fast in order to pray. In this way, fasting, like prayer, connects us to God and gives us spiritual authority.
“I asked your disciples to drive it out and they could not.” Jesus replies, “Oh unbelieving generation, how long shall I put up with you?” Is he talking about the unbelief of the disciples? I think so. But others think he says this to the crowd or the critics or the father. Or maybe it’s addressed to everyone? Then, “Bring the boy to me.” The disciples have failed; Jesus steps in.
When the father brings the boy, the evil spirit throws him into a terrible seizure. This is a power encounter: the forces of evil encounter the Son of God; the kingdom of darkness encounters the kingdom of God. God wins! But expect a battle when these two forces collide.
Jesus asks how long the boy has been like this, and the father says since childhood. Then this famous exchange:
Mark 9:22-24 “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
“If you can.” Faith doesn’t say, “if you can”. What does faith say? Faith says, “I know you can!” Perhaps the man’s faith had taken a beating when the disciples couldn’t help his son; maybe he reasoned that Jesus may not be able to help either. Jesus confronts his lack of faith, and reminds him that, “everything is possible for him who believes.” Faith says, “I know you can.”
The man receives Jesus’ correction and then prays one of my favorite prayers in the Bible: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” This is the model prayer for all of us who want our faith to be stronger. I need Jesus’ help to believe. I need Jesus’ help to have a strong faith. But notice that Jesus responds to the faith the man has and heals his son. Even though the man admitted a lack of faith, Jesus didn’t send him away. “Come back when your faith is stronger.” No—Jesus took him as he was and healed his son. And in doing it, Jesus answered his prayer: Jesus helped his son and in doing so, helped the man overcome his unbelief.
There’s the story. Why did Mark include it in the gospel? What is the Big Idea Mark is trying to communicate about Jesus? This event is sandwiched between two predictions of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. He predicts it on the mountain after the Transfiguration to Peter, James and John. He predicts it again after this event to all twelve of the disciples. I think Mark wants us to see that Jesus, the suffering Savior of the world, cares about a desperate father and his hurting son. Jesus is enough—He is enough for the whole world—He is enough for one father and his son. The last half of Mark all points towards the cross and resurrection. And yet all along the way, Jesus stops to care for hurting people. He’s never too busy. He’s never too focused. He is the Savior of the world—and He is your Savior. Jesus is enough for you. When you call, He’ll answer. He is never too busy for you. Sometimes we are tempted to think, “God is busy running the universe. He won’t care about my small stuff.” Not true. Jesus is enough…for you. On His way to save the world, Jesus healed a tormented boy. Jesus was enough. He is enough for you too.
Application: what does it mean to me?
I just gave you a big one: Jesus is enough for you. Call on Him! Here are a couple more.
Bring your kids to Jesus. It’s Father’s Day, and I was struck by the fact that this father brought his son to Jesus. I can’t help but make the application: parents, bring your kids to Jesus.
Jesus said, “Bring the boy to me.” In Mark 10, when parents were bringing their children to Jesus, the disciples tried to shoo them away. In their minds, Jesus was a VIP—He didn’t have time for children. But Jesus rebuked His disciples (not the parents) and said, “Let the children come to me.” Bring your kids to Jesus.
And today, I want to speak directly to the dads: bring your kids to Jesus. Often, moms are the primary nurturers of children; but I want to challenge the dads to step up and share the responsibility for the spiritual nurture of their kids. It was a dad who brought this boy to Jesus. Dads: bring your kids to Jesus.
How do you bring your kids to Jesus?
First, you pray for them. Dads (and moms), I hope you pray for each of your kids every day. If you don’t pray for them, who will? You are the primary pray-ers for your kids. If you don’t pray for them, who does? You are responsible to bring them to Jesus—God has entrusted them to your care.
ILL: I have watched Noel pray each of his six children through various crises. I have heard him praying for them and with them. All six of his kids are devoted followers of Jesus and wonderful people—and in large part it’s because Noel brought them to Jesus in prayer.
Pray for your children—and pray with your children. This is one of the best ways to bring your kids to Jesus: pray with them.
ILL: Laina and I prayed with each of the kids every night when they were growing up. We prayed with them during the day when problems came up. We helped them learn to come to Jesus when you have a need.
Friday, I was playing with my granddaughters, Jenna and Savanna. I let them pick the game. We played “Mommy, Daddy and baby.” Jenna was the daddy, Savanna was the mommy, and I got to be the baby. At one point, Savanna told me I had to get sick—it’s what babies do. So I started coughing and gagging. Laina came over and said, “Pray for the baby, girls.” So they each touched me and prayed with me—there is nothing sweeter than the prayer of a child! They brought me to Jesus—and look—I got well!
Bring your kids to Jesus: pray for them and with them. We’re going to give you a chance to do that right now. On your program, you’ll find a tear-off card at the top. Take a moment and write out your prayer for your kids, or for one of your kids. You may want to give it to him or her.
Write out prayers—music here!
Pray for and with your kids. Are there other things we do to bring our kids to Jesus? Lots. Here are a few that Laina and I did.
Biggest by far: we modeled a relationship with Jesus. We lived our relationship with Jesus in front of them. You can’t give away what you don’t have. So nurture your own relationship with Jesus, and then live it out in front of your kids. Be the example.
We modeled PBJ time. All our children do their own PBJ time and have since they were pre-teens. They saw us do it and heard us talk about it, so they imitated us and now they all do it faithfully.
We made church a priority. It was never optional. Do we feel like going today? Didn’t matter—this is what we do. We are committed to Jesus and to being with His people to worship and learn. We sacrificed other things to be in church each week. As our kids grew, this carried over from Adventureland to youth group—they made it a priority.
We talked about what they learned at church. Adventureland sends homework with children each week. Moms and Dads—do the homework with your kids! They’ll love it, and you’ll have more impact on your kids than any Sunday School teacher could have! We did the same thing when our kids got to youth group—we talked about it together.
Bring your kids to Jesus. If you don’t do it, who will?
Come to Jesus as you are. This father had a wobbly faith, but he didn’t let that stop him from coming to Jesus. He admitted his faith was wobbly. “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” And Jesus took him as he was and healed his son.
Sometimes we hesitate to pray because we don’t think we’re good enough (we’re not) or our faith is strong enough (it’s not). But we need to come to Jesus as we are. If we wait to be strong enough on our own, we’ll never come. Come to Jesus as you are—He’ll help you!
This story is about a man with a weak faith…in strong Savior. In the end, what really matters is not the strength of your faith, but the strength of your Savior. What really matters is not how good you are, but how good He is. Come to Jesus as you are.
ILL: When I was doing youth ministry, we did summer camps at a primitive Forest Service campground. Primitive is the operative word: no electricity, no showers—the facilities were pit toilets—outhouses.
One year, three girls came from Reno, Nevada, sent by their parents who hoped we could straighten them out. They came with baggage—lots of marijuana in their suitcases. They didn’t want to be there, but slowly Jesus started getting their attention. About mid-week they came to me.
“We want to follow Jesus, but we can’t do it,” they said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“We can’t give up our stuff, like sleeping with our boyfriends or smoking dope.”
“You don’t have to give it up!” I said. They looked surprised. “You’ve got it backwards. You are trying to change so you are good enough to come to Jesus. You just need to come as you are and let Jesus change you.”
Then I said, “You’ve all got winter coats?” They nodded. “When summer comes, how hard is it to take off your winter coat?”
“When Jesus comes into your life, you’ll be able to shed those old habits like a winter coat in the middle of summer.”
We prayed together, and they invited Jesus to come in to their lives—they came as they were. A couple hours later someone told me that those girls had tossed their dope down the outhouse—and there ain’t no getting it back from there!
Come to Jesus as you are…and let Him change you.
Let’s take a moment to pray—you might want to identify the one thing Jesus said to you today and write it out as a prayer back to Him.